Ballou in North Platte, December 2012
Linda Kirkpatrick at North Platte High
Speaking to North Platte school staff, December 2012
Linda Ballou, a 1960 North Platte High School graduate who received a "distinguished alumni" award from the high school in 2009, is under criminal investigation in Florida for fraud.
Ballou ran a non-profit organization to combat prescription drug abuse, but her personal credentials, including a doctorate degree, are fake.
Until recently, Ballou was the chief executive officer of the PARK Foundation of Sarasota, Fla, which she founded in June 2011.
PARK stands for Prescription Addiction Really Kills. Ostensibly, it is has the goal of increasing awareness of and combating prescription drug abuse.
But Ballou, 70, cited fraudulent medical and academic experience and posed as a doctor as she courted donors, according to a Sarasota Herald Tribune newspaper report.
Ballou has long referred to herself as Dr. Ballou.
In a filmed interview with the Herald Tribune that is published on the Internet, Ballou admitted that her doctorate is from Strassford University or Stafford University. Both places are regarded as “diploma mills” — fake universities that issue certificates of degrees for a fee — according to online reports as well as the Sarasota newspaper.
In an interview with the Bulletin in 2009, before Ballou received her North Platte award, she talked at length about her accomplishments. She said she was raised by a great-grandmother with help from extended family and friends.
“I was given up for adoption at when I was one-year old,” she said. “My great-grandmother, who was born in the late 1800s, adopted me.”
Ballou, whose maiden name was Kirkpatrick, said she studied drama and music in high school as well as in college, and at age 15, still in high school, she worked as a nurse’s aide at St. Mary’s Hospital, thus beginning a career in nursing.
She told the Bulletin she later earned an RN degree in California — the first of a multitude of degrees and professional licenses.
In recounting her achievements, she said that in 1965, she moved her three children to Los Angeles where she worked as a critical care, surgical nurse. She said she worked in both intensive care and delivery rooms, and also spent four years as an emergency room nurse. She said she also worked in a burn center as well as a terminal cancer research center. And, she said she was later a nursing supervisor at a psychiatric facility.
But when questioned by the Sarasota newspaper, she admitted she was never a Registered Nurse, but only a certified nurse assistant -- a nurse's aide. Nurse assistants normally work under RNs as well as LPNs (licensed practical nurses.)
Ballou also told the Bulletin that in 1973, still working as a nurse, she started working in sales and marketing. After a year of training with the Atlantic Richfield company, she said she took charge of 50 service stations and car washes on the West Coast, and eventually became a wholesale dealer for STP oil and fuel additives. She said she advanced to management in that job, where she “got to be in a pit crew with Mario Andretti and Richard Petty,” as some of her perks.
Ballou said she also had a career in entertainment. Besides raising five children, she said she’d performed in nightclubs as well as cruise ships, radio, television and films, and developed a two-hour, one-woman show called, “That’s Entertainment” with music, dancing and comedy — a Broadway cabaret-style program.
Ballou said her work in business continued at the same time. She founded Great Life Financial Group, Inc., in 1994, an insurance company specializing in long-term care, final expenses, wills, trusts and safe alternatives to the stock market.
Ten years later, she and her husband Richard moved the corporation to Sarasota, Fla.
And, she said she founded a subsidiary company, Great Life Educational Academy, designed to educate and train insurance professionals.
“Our agents can obtain a franchise without a fee,” she told the Bulletin in January 2009, just a few months after the international banking system nearly collapsed in late 2008.
“We put them (the agents) through a training class, and they have a stream of business that they never had before,” she said.
Soon after Ballou received North Platte's distinguished alumni award, an anonymous telephone caller told the Bulletin that she had been involved in a Ponzi scheme in Florida. A check of records showed that eight years earlier in 2000-01, she was investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for taking part in a multistate Ponzi scheme that allegedly bilked investors out of $2.7 million. But the investigation was inconclusive, and the charges were dropped after Ballou and her co-workers agreed to settle, without either denying or admitting guilt.
Recently, when the Herald Tribune asked Ballou about those accusations, she said she was the one who alerted authorities to the scheme.
As recently as December, Ballou returned to North Platte to try to persuade the North Platte School District to adopt the PARK course of study, which she said would help students avoid prescription drug abuse. She said her course included candlelight vigils to educate the public.
She appeared before school staff in December, and in Sarasota she told people that North Platte is an example of a school district that uses her curriculum.
Despite her claim, her curriculum is not utilized, Associate Superintendent Tami Eshleman said.
Eshleman said there has been no contact between the district and Ballou since December.
A video of parts of her presentation in North Platte, plus a television interview with KNOP, are available online on You Tube.
Ballou has also drawn the ire of a North Platte business that has struggled for several months to collect a bill from her, according to an office employee who asked not to be named. After a lot of back and forth communications, Ballou finally made some $50-a-month payments on a bill that is in the thousands of dollars, the employee said.
As part of PARK’s work in Sarasota, Ballou urged an independent filmmaker to produce a one-hour documentary film about prescription drug abuse.
Just as the film was about to be shown (at $50 a ticket fundraiser for PARK), the Herald Tribune broke the news of Ballou’s phony credentials, and the film was shelved. The producer told the Herald Tribune that Ballou owes his company about $10,000 for the film, and even though his heart was in the movie and combating prescription drug abuse, he didn't want to have anything more to do with Ballou.
After the Herald Tribune’s report, Ballou reportedly closed the PARK office and took down its facebook page, which was filled with links to pages that have ties to North Platte.
The list of people who have apparently been fooled by Ballou is noteworthy. PARK’s board of directors included two prominent attorneys and a certified public accountant, the Herald-Tribune reported.
The Sarasota police started a criminal investigation in late April. Detective Jack Carter was in charge of the investigation, the Herald Tribune reported. Carter could be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This report was first published in the Bulletin's June 26 print edition. To see reports about Ballou in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, click HERE and enter Linda Ballou's name in the search bar.